United Airlines Wins Case Over ‘Lifetime’ Benefits

CHICAGO (CN) — United Airlines prevailed in a federal class action from a customer who claimed he was wrongfully denied his lifetime “Silver Wings” benefits.

Howard Neft of Scottsdale, Arizona accused United of breach of contract in January 2016. He asked for a refund of his $225 membership fee.

Neft said he purchased a lifetime membership in United’s Silver Wings Plus senior discount program in 2000, but United stopped offering the program seven years later.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. granted summary judgment to United.

The airline started Silver Wings Plus in 1986 for travelers 55 and older. Members got discounts on hotels, car rentals and cruises through United’s travel partners. They also received flight discounts and bonus miles from United, and reduced fares in certain zones of the United States.

United worked with a company called Relationship Management Partners, which sent membership cards and brochures to the Silver Wings Plus members.

United stopped working with RMP at the end of 2002 and stopped offering Silver Wings Plus memberships in 2007. Neff received 17,000 bonus miles through Silver Wings Plus.

But Judge Dow noted that the membership fee could be refunded only within the first 90 days of enrollment.

Another item in United’s Terms and Conditions stated: “Silver Wings Plus and its partners reserve the right to substitute or withdraw any offers or to limit their availability at any time.”

Neff said that he “basically forgot about” the Silver Wings Plus program between 2007 and 2016.

Dow wrote: “There were seven flights that plaintiff booked between January 1, 2007 and 2012 where a zoned fare was available, the zoned fare was cheaper than the fare that plaintiff paid, and the booking met zoned fare requirements. However, all of those flights were booked during the time when plaintiff had ‘forgotten’ about the program, and plaintiff concedes that he did not try to book a zoned fare for any of those flights.”

Neff argued that United breached its contract by failing to offer him access to the zoned fares, which airline continues to sell today.

But Dow cited a flight Neff booked between Phoenix and Chicago as the only one he tried to purchase as a zoned fare.

“Plaintiff presents no evidence that United did, in fact, offer zoned airfare between Phoenix and Chicago for the date he wished to travel, a date that he did not specifically recall,” Dow wrote.

“Such evidence would be essential to his claim that he was not allowed to access a zoned fare that United purported to make available to Silver Wings customers, given his concession that United has a right to withdraw and limit any offers and therefore does not have a contractual obligation to offer zoned airfare generally or on any particular routes.”

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